The rain was coming down in deluges outside the Salem Civic Center Saturday evening.
Inside the complex, the Tabb Tigers were finding it hard to take cover from another storm pounding the court.
Using its patented power game to perfection, the Lord Botetourt volleyball team capped off a perfect season by downing the Tabb Tigers 3-0 to win their third straight VHSL Class 3 state title by scores of 25-13; 25-14, 27-25.
To say this was the perfect season for the Cavaliers may be the understatement of the volleyball scene. Botetourt finished the year 31-0, and never lost a single set during that run.
That added to the previous state championships captured in 2017 and 2018, with their record now reaching an overwhelming 94-1 over that 3-year stretch.
Saturday night it was obvious that the younger Tabb team was over-matched from the outset. Maybe it was the nerves of playing on the biggest stage for the state’s biggest prize, maybe it was knowing you’re facing a pure high school volleyball juggernaut, or maybe it was continually trying to fend off the front-line power attack that the Cavaliers bring.
Cavalier head coach Julie Conner has Botetourt volleyball clicking on all cylinders. She turns good players into All-State players and knows how to push the buttons and make the right adjustments to win.
For anyone covering high school volleyball, you could see this coming years ago at a regional match at Staunton River High School where Botetourt squared off against the powerful Cave Spring Knights and their five-time state championship coach Tamalyn Tanis. Cave Spring was a top dog in state volleyball in the Tanis days, but Conner’s Botetourt team almost pulled off the unthinkable upset that night. During the post-match interview Conner was almost in tears over the near miss. But, it was obvious Conner was going to be a star of the future on the volleyball sideline. Predictions are a lot of fun when you hit it right on the money.
Saturday evening, Botetourt wasted no time taking control. In the first set, Tabb was hanging tough in the early going, trailing only 14-11 when Cavalier senior defensive setter Maegan Barnes stepped to the service line. Before Tabb could get the service back, Barnes and the front-line Botetourt bombers had the Cavaliers up 21-11, and the 25-13 final was just a formality.
The second set was much the same. An early 6-2 Botetourt lead grew to 18-8 before the Cavs simply traded points down the stretch to win 25-14.
Give Tabb plenty of credit in the deciding third set where the Tigers came close to ending Botetourt’s streak of not losing a set all year. The Tigers had leads of 8-3 and 16-11 before Botetourt rallied to tie things at 17. Tabb looked ready to make things interesting when they went up 22-18 and only 3 points removed from forcing a fourth set.
But, Botetourt went to its strength and had the answer. Senior Ryanna Clark served up 4 straight points to knot the set at 22. The teams went back and forth with All-State hitter Miette Veldman clearly Conner’s go-to player in the clutch as the Botetourt setters kept getting her the ball at the net for a series of smash kills into the Tiger defense. Tabb had set point, up 24-23, but Botetourt refused to give in.
With the set tied at 25, it was not surprising that a pair of Class 3 All-Staters from 2018 finish the deal. First, Veldman scattered the Tabb defense with a ferocious kill that put the Cavs up 26-25. Then, senior Taylor Robertson, a First-Team All-State player at Cave Spring in 2018 who transferred to Botetourt this season, put the hammer down with a rocket past the Tiger defense that ended the proceedings.
Veldman ended the title match with 19 kills, while Robertson plastered Tabb with 10. Clark and junior Annelise Wolfe each added 7. Senior setter Kenleigh Gunter set the table for the Cavalier smash parade, posting 42 assists to go along with 15 digs. Leah Carlton, one of the seven Cav seniors, chipped in 3 digs.
Tabb, whose roster included 3 freshmen and 4 sophomores, along with three juniors and three seniors, was led by 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Sarah Callender who finished with 12 kills.